In case you’ve never heard of the horrific practice called shark finning, it’s where people catch sharks, remove their fins, and then dispose of the de-finned shark by putting it back into the ocean.
The result isn’t pretty; the disposed of sharks almost never survive because they either bleed out from their wounds or can’t swim properly afterward. Why do people do it? – It turns out that shark fins are one of the essential ingredients for a type of soup that served throughout Asia, so it’s a profitable venture. Again, greed proves to be the root of all evil.
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Fisheries in the United States are a large part of the problem, mostly because current laws governing the practice are so spotty that people continue to get away with it. Nevertheless, other countries share the blame because many don’t regulate the practice at all.
It’s a nightmare for conservationists, but U.S. lawmakers are stepping up to the plate. A newly-proposed law could increase the severity of penalties for those owning or trading shark fins in the United States. Conservation groups like Oceana are backing the newfangled regulation, but not everyone thinks it’s going to help with conservation efforts.
Marine scientists David Shiffman and Robert Hueter share their concerns about the new laws, arguing that well-managed fishery systems would be more useful for shark conservation efforts than an outright ban in the United States.
They express their argument in a paper published in the journal Marine Policy.
They suggest that moving away from managed fishery systems in place of strict bans would force those in the finning business to seek opportunities in unregulated countries instead. Unfortunately, because these countries don't regulate finning, the problem could potentially grow out of control and cause more harm to sharks than good.
"Removing that from the marketplace removes a template of a well-managed fishery," said Shiffman, a researcher at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. "It's much easier for us to say, here's a way you can do this."
Instead of opening the door for fin-snatchers to conduct their shady business in other countries, the scientists suggest that having a sustainable shark-fishery system in place in the United States is more important, as it would keep as many sharks in our oceans safe from finning as possible.
Shiffman’s idea would purportedly allow the market to continue functioning, but only under controlled capacities such that the practice wouldn’t put shark conservation efforts at risk. It's not a perfect solution to what's otherwise a heinous issue, but until the rest of the world starts regulating shark finning like the new U.S.-based laws will, it could be the only way to handle the problem efficiently.
All in all, the entire thing is a big mess. There is a whole host of factors involved in conserving sharks, but confusion runs rampant about the creatures' well-being because we don't know as much as about them as we'd like to think.
Researchers are doing everything they can to protect our ocean’s great fishes, but conservation regulation requires careful planning, and it’s entirely possible that lawmakers may not have thought this one through as well as they should have.
Only time will tell...